Captain Maya Yoshida has her sights set on Japan’s historic round of 16

National team captain Maya Yoshida is aiming to make sporting history for Japan at the World Cup in Qatar in about six months, but to have the chance he needs to be selected and healthy enough to play at football’s flagship event for the third straight year to play .

Victory in the World Cup knockout stages has so far proved too high a hurdle for the Samurai Blue, who have alternated between group stages and round of 16 in the last six tournaments since their debut in France in 1998.

“I want to get through the round of 16 for myself and also make Japanese sporting history,” said Yoshida.

Maya Yoshida (R) and his Japanese teammates celebrate after securing a place at the World Cup in Qatar with a 2-0 win over Australia in Sydney on March 24, 2022. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Japan has been given a tough draw for November 21-December. 18 World Cup, against European giants Germany and Spain, with the fourth team in Group E yet to be determined.

While there is a good chance of Japan reaching their fourth knockout stage, the 33-year-old’s experience on courts around the world allows him to approach the task with a more mature perspective.

The longtime Southampton and now Sampdoria centre-back is often compared to Japanese defenders Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka, two players who played key roles at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – a comparison he says he has always enjoyed has pursued career.

“I hated being judged against them when I was young, since I first came into the national team until before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It was like being haunted by ghosts,” Yoshida said.


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He believes the only way to break free from the measurement with Nakazawa and Tanaka is to help Japan reach their first World Cup quarterfinals.

Yoshida said he had the opportunity to ask Nakazawa directly during an interview last summer what he needs to do to surpass him as a defender.

After initially modestly saying that Yoshida had already done so, Nakazawa said to him, “I think you have to make it to the last eight (at the World Championships),” Yoshida said. “I told him I agreed.”

Maya Yoshida gives an interview on March 17, 2022 in Genoa, Italy. (kyodo)

When it comes to association football, the comparison falls flat as neither Nakazawa nor Tanaka have played professionally abroad.

Yoshida, on the other hand, has played more games in the English Premier League than any other Japanese player while establishing himself as a defensive pillar of the national team.

Under Hajime Moriyasu, Samurai Blue’s preparations have been severely hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, but Yoshida knows the manager is doing his best for Japanese football.

“He’s not only thinking about the team now, but also about the future,” said Yoshida. “This has not been the case with non-Japanese managers in the past. They just needed results for themselves,” Yoshida said.

Maya Yoshida (C) of Sampdoria celebrates his team’s opening goal with teammates during a match against Cagliari in Italian Serie A on January 6, 2022 in Genoa, Italy. (Kyodo)

“But because he’s Japanese, he thinks about long-term goals as much as he thinks about immediate goals. That is the big difference.”

Yoshida saw only a few minutes with his Italian team towards the end of a grueling and injury-plagued season. At the Tokyo Olympics last summer, he captained Moriyasu’s Japan U24 team and helped them reach the semifinals.

The Japan Brains Trust hopes that the much-needed off-season recovery and regular time at the start of next season will allow Yoshida to enter the tournament in Qatar in the best possible form.

If he can, the stage is set for him to set himself apart by taking Japan to heights never seen before.

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